O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
The Book of Revelation: Worshipping with All of Heaven Part I - Judge and Savior
The Book of Revelation: Worshipping with All of Heaven Part I - Judge and Savior
Based on Rev. 1:4-18
Preached on April 7, 2013
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Fellow baptized saints, does the book of Revelation make you break out in cold sweats? Do you catch yourself gasping as you hear of the vivid images of blood and plagues and scrolls? Or does the whole thing make your head spin? Have you written it off as a crazy part of the Bible that nobody can understand?
It doesn't have to be that way. There are deep truths in the book of Revelation, that is true, but these truths have been experienced by God's people for centuries, even by you. They are truths that are very familiar to you. Pictures you see all the time. And when the right connection is made, Revelation will become for you a book of great comfort and hope. For example, did you know that even right now, in this very moment as you listen to the sermon, we are all part of the picture this book paints? Did you know that we are actually participating in the "crazy images" described in this book? That they are actually happening right now, as they have been since John wrote them?
Each Sunday during the season of Easter, we are going to turn heaven's video cameras on. We are going to watch what's happening up there. To see all that John saw when He gazed into heaven, to witness the way God is worshipped there.
There are five different readings from Revelation over the next five weeks, and though they are scattered throughout the book they all capture the same event. Like five different video cameras all filming the same stage. Only one thing is happening, but it is seen from five angles. This is how John wrote the Revelation. It is not a sequence of historic events, that follow one after the other, but multiple cameras all capturing the same end times. The same victory. The same celebration in heaven.
As we follow these five readings, we will hold their images up against what we see in the liturgy each week, and realize - that the way God comes to us in His Divine Service here on Sunday morning, is the same way He will be worshipped for all eternity. We will see that here in the Divine Service, God unites our worship with those who sing His praises before His eternal throne in heaven. That it is one and the same worship, one He has spoken in His Word.
But before we can do any of that we need to understand why Jesus appeared to John in the first place. Why did Jesus give John this wonderful revelation?
It was approximately 95 A.D. That means it had been over sixty years since Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. Only the apostle John remained, and the struggling Church had faced great tribulation and suffering at the hands of the Roman Empire. Christianity was illegal, so it was a bleak time for the mere 100 Christian congregations that made up the Church at that time. What's more, the apostle John had been captured and exiled to the tiny island of Patmos in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. Knowing He would soon call the last of His apostles to Himself, our Lord provided His Church with this epic picture of His final victory over all His enemies. Here was what they needed to have hope amidst their hardship. They needed to repent and believe the good news. They needed to refocus themselves on the things Christ had given them and continued to give them through His preached Word and Sacrament.
And John makes that very clear at the start of his letter. He writes, "Grace to you and peace." Have you heard that before? Sure, you hear it at the start of the sermon every week. It is a declaration of the way God sees you. In grace and peace. This is the proper way to publicly address God's holy people. To immediately proclaim the Gospel truth that is theirs in Christ Jesus. So we see that John intends for his letter to be used in the Divine Service, during public worship, perhaps even as the sermon.
And if his first words were not obvious enough, he continues writing, "to Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood." Blood? Worship? What do these have to do with one another? Everything. The entire sacrificial system of the Old Testament was based on blood. Pour blood here. Sprinkle blood there. Then you can be in my presence. Blood was how God and man could be together, it was where sin and holiness could meet. And it is the same today. Blood is still at the center of worship, but now it is God's own blood shed for you on the cross that gives you access to His holy presence. You and your sin are able to be here with God because you are covered by the blood of Jesus. In fact, the blood of Jesus is the heart and soul of the Divine Service. The whole service leads us closer and closer into God's holy presence by the power of Christ's blood. From the confession and absolution - when the blood of Christ is proclaimed to be on you, granting you entrance into God's presence, right through to the Lord's Supper when He pours His actual blood into your mouth, putting His holy presence in you. Worship is all about blood, and John draws this to mind. As he sets forth his letter, he calls us to focus on this blood.
"To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood, and made us a kingdom, priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen." Amen! Would you ever say Amen to your boss, or your spouse? No - this is a liturgical word - it belongs in worship - for it means "This is true" or "Yes, it is so" - it is the fitting response from God's people when they hear God's Word - the response of faith - the heart's affirmation. He speaks and it causes us to speak. Amen! This liturgical conversation keeps you focused on what God is doing. It keeps you listening, receiving. It is that delightful phrase all parents love to hear from their children when they give them something. "Thank you Daddy. This is a good thing. You are a gracious father." Amen.
But when do you say Amen during the service? When is the appropriate time to say Amen outloud? Well, most of them are written for you. Whether it is at the end of a prayer - saying Yes this is my prayer Lord, or at the end of the Creed - saying Yes this is what I believe.
But there are some other appropriate times during the service that are not written down, like at the beginning of the sermon. "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." Amen. Yes, this is true - God is giving me grace and peace through this Word I hear. And again at the end of the sermon. "May the peace of God which surpasses all human understanding keep you in the true faith until life everlasting." Amen. Yes, this is true - God's Word is all that can keep my faith alive unto eternal life. Another appropriate time would be when you hear the Words of Institution - "Take and drink, this is my blood shed for you" Amen. This is true. Lord, you give me your true blood to drink for my forgiveness. Faith says Amen to the blood of Jesus, it declares it to be true, and the apostle John calls us to remember our safety in this blood as we hear the revelation.
So in this worship context, and with a focus on worship John begins to tell us about his vision. "I, John, was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet." Christ appeared to John on a Sunday - the Lord's Day, and at the time John was "in the Spirit", that is, it was during worship, during the Divine Service when John was meditating on the Word of God.
He continues "Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands." More worship clues. This time an item from the temple - the lampstand. Yet Jesus also described the Church as a lampstand, "No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, but on a stand." Here is another key to understanding Revelation. It is full of pictures. Symbolism from the rest of the Scriptures. The lampstand, for example, is connected to two ideas as we have said - worship in the temple - and the Church. So when John sees seven golden lampstands - he sees the Church in worship.
But why seven? Seven golden lampstands. Here John gives us another picture. We are not to focus on the number, but on the picture the number represents. Biblical numbers have meaning. One is a picture of unity. Three is a picture of godliness. Seven is a picture of completeness. Seven day creation. Six days plus a day for worship. This is what makes creation complete, like our week. So when John sees seven golden lampstands - he sees the complete Church in worship - not a single believer is missing. And this is extremely comforting for congregations that are suffering and persecuted. Especially because of the next part.
For who is standing in the midst of these lampstands? Who resides in the midst of His people as they endure hardship? Christ Himself, one like the son of man, clothed with a long robe with a golden sash around His chest. Christ is there with His whole Church in worship. And what is He is wearing? You see it every Lord's Day in worship. A white robe and a sash or stole. What, did you think I just liked wearing this dress? This is the mystery behind Christ's Words. Whoever hears you, hears me. Christ is still in the midst of His Church through His Word and Sacrament preached and administered by His called and ordained servant. Christ is here.
But take a closer look. "The hairs of His head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, His feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and His voice was like the roar of many waters." This is a description of the "Ancient of Days" from the book of Daniel. John is showing that the exalted Christ is co-equal with the Father. He is the one who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty, and He stands here in our midst right now in all His power and glory. What is there to fear?
"In his right hand he has seven stars" that is, He is in control of all the holy angels, employing them to guard and protect His Church. "And from His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword," the power by which He rules His Church, that is, His preached Word. This Word has two edges. His Law and His Gospel. And we need both. He speaks His Law cutting down our pride and self-righteousness, putting it to death, that we fall dead before His feet. And He speaks His Gospel, bringing us back to life and promising us eternal safety in His care. "Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades."
Though this would all seem terrifying to the average reader, the beleaguered and persecuted Christian can receive no greater comfort. For this image declares there is nothing, not the Roman Empire, not our dying Christian culture, not your sin or death, the devil or even hell that can do anything to God's kingdom. Christ is in control. Total control. And He promises He is here in our midst. He promises to be found in the preaching of His two-edged Word. He promises to be found in His holy Supper. He promises He will be with you always, even to the very end of the age.
John saw a vision of Christ in the midst of His Church as they worship, protecting and caring for her with His Holy Word. And we have watched in on this heavenly video camera for only a brief time. But the reality John witnessed is the same one we participate in at this very moment. See the voice that is speaking to you. Fall dead at His holy feet. For He holds all of the keys for you. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr